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Harper Derangement Syndrome hits the USA

At long last there is good news for the many victims of HDS (Harper Derangement Syndrome). The New York Times has noticed.

HDS is the compelling urge to compare the current Canadian prime minister to Vladimir Putin, his Conservative supporters to Boko Haram, and his policies to those of Augusto Pinochet. For much of Harper’s tenure as prime minister, the panache police in the urban silos of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver have been apoplectic about the apparent lack of charisma employed in keeping Canada’s economy ahead of the other G8 countries who crashed and burned after 2008.

So, the Times enlisted Toronto scribbler and progressive prune Stephen Marche to unleash a storm of purple invective about how Harper has made Canada dumber during his tenure. Oh, does Marche bring the goods. There’s the war on science, the steadfast refusal to faint over global warming, er… climate change hysteria and his shocking end to the long-form census.

According to Marche’s overheated prose, Harper’s praise of Toronto mayor Rob Ford is tantamount to treason.

Thank God the Harp didn’t try to nationalize Timmy’s or Marche’s head might explode in indignation.

“The Harper years have seen a subtle darkening of Canadian life,” thunders Marche. Ignoring virtually every other previous administration, he pronounces the Harper years as “one of the most scandal-plagued administrations in Canadian history.” If there is a dramatic uptick in Harper’s lifestyle or trappings it has yet to be divined by anyone with eyes to see.

There have been no Chrétien-esque shenanigans on golf course real estate nor Mulroney taking a delivery of unmarked bills in envelopes at a hotel. No Munsinger call-girl capers under Mike Pearson. To say nothing of Sir John A.’s railroad scams. While Hillary Clinton has salted away millions in speaking fees and quid-pro-quo charitable scams, the worst thing HDS sufferers can come up with is the $90K loan from Harper’s chief of staff to a trough-raking senator.

But Marche has concluded that the Harper years have been a slough of despond. Disdaining research for broad-strokes, Marche issues a cocktail-party critique. “Mr. Harper’s appointments to the Senate have proved greedier than the norm.” Given the Senate’s decades of pork, how he can make this distinction is left to the mysteries of science. The greatest news on the Senate front is that some of its august members (some appointed by Harper) have finally been rooted out in their greed.

Marche’s pique is most aggravated by Harper’s tomblike silence in dealing with the press. Having conveniently erased the Chretien years from his critical faculties (remember Jean the Strangler?), Marche describes the arrogance writ large in Harper’s tightly controlled media schemes. “In the usual give-and-take between press and politicians, the hurly-burly of any healthy democracy, he has simply removed the give.”

Boo hoo. The media party inadvertently helped erect the Harper beast in 2004. After a decade in isolation, fulminating over Chretien’s ironclad hold on the PMO, Harper’s Tories decisively led Paul Martin’s Liberals in the polls with 14 days to go in the federal election. As is their wont, reporters then went looking for pithy opinions about gays from your garden variety Reform Party zealot. Sure enough some back-bench type offered up the “homosexuals should burn in hell” quote.

The religious right is crack to urban progressives, and when the headlines about Harper’s fringe had made the rounds, the Tories’ lead disappeared and Martin got the PM job. Harper would have to wait two years more for a rematch. His revenge was to swear he’d never be bushwhacked this way again by media enemies and loose-lipped backbenchers.

Thus did the Conservatives enter their omertà phase where the message was created, controlled and spun by the PMO and no one else. As Marche concludes, the result has been a wall of silence in a city that used to leak like a colander. Harper has bunged up the information cask, leaving a deliberate trickle of spin in place of juicy gossip. No wonder Ottawa’s press corps is on meds.

There are many enormous structural problems in the PMO, problems that originated long before Harper took the job in 2006. (Liberal lion Pierre Trudeau can be thanked for a number of them thanks to his constitutional handiwork.) Has Harper done anything to mitigate this drift to ultimate power in the PMO? Absolutely not. Any defence of Harper is a reluctant one from the right. Real conservatives who believe in smaller government see this as his critical failing.

But Marche sees it more like using the wrong fork at the dining table. A failure of posture, a collapse of cool. Marche’s limp summary is all you need to know about HDR: “The Harper years have not been terrible; they’ve just been bland and purposeless”. Not a constitutional car wreck. Just bland. In other words, Harper’s style offends the beautiful people who gather at TIFF to munch arugula sandwiches and sip Perrier.

And that was music to the ears of the New York Times.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy #notthepublicbroadcaster

Originally published on 2015-08-24 with The Prince Arthur Herald